Every Fifth Day: Bronson Arroyo Finding a Way

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The label, “thirteen-year MLB veteran” does not fully depict who Bronson Arroyo is as a person.

Spontaneous, maybe.

Free-spirited, sure.

Consistent, absolutely.

It was a time and place few recall. Arroyo was on an old flip phone in the middle of nowhere. He had just finished packing up some equipment for a show he played in, and the equipment was not a glove and a ball. The stage was not a diamond with bases but rather a stage where Arroyo showcased his musical prowess.

Years later, in the midst of the off-season in 2003, Arroyo attended a sold out Paradise Rock Club event in Boston called “Hot Stove, Cool Music.” This annual benefit concert was founded by then-Red-Sox-General-Manager Theo Epstein and legendary baseball analyst Peter Gammons. Arroyo had no intention of stepping foot on stage that night but was surprised by Gammons’ question. “Hey, don’t you play a little bit?” A simple acknowledgement by Arroyo prompted a simple proposition from Peter, “Do you want to play a song?”

Four years of regularly practicing guitar since his days in Double-A with the Pirates added to Arroyo’s modus operandi to stay cool, calm and collected. With a nonchalant “Okay,” Arroyo got up and wowed the crowd, performing Black by Pearl Jam on famous White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell’s Fender guitar.

Arroyo was drafted by the Pirates in 1995 and reported to rookie ball the day after graduating from high school. The transition from high school baseball to the professional ranks is quite the leap but Arroyo took it in stride. Arroyo did not miss a game in his minor league career and always found a way to take the ball when needed. Arroyo said it best, “I always found a way to make that next start; to be able to perform again five days later. I pitched 456 games through the minor and major leagues without missing a game. Whether it was starting a game or coming out of the bullpen I always found a way.”

Arroyo has spent his career with four organizations: the Pittsburg Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, and currently, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The skinny, 6-foot-5, 195-pound, long-haired, right-handed pitcher and Florida native is known for his abnormally high kick during delivery and for having a magic weapon in the form of a deceiving curveball.

Arroyo got the chance to break beyond the minor league threshold in 2000 when he received a call from his Triple-A manager in the middle of June.

“He called me and said he had good news and bad news and asked which one I wanted to hear first. I replied, ‘Well, I’ll take the bad news first.’” This is when his manager told him, “you’re not going to pitch today in Colorado Springs… because you’re going to pitch a couple of innings against the Braves in Pittsburg.”

Overcome with emotion, the young right-handed hurler went back to his hotel room to call family and friends with the good news. He was excited. He was nervous. His friends were already asking him what time the game started while he tried to fathom his next dream because his first was on the cusp of becoming a reality.

“My immediate goal was just to get to the Majors,” Arroyo said. “Then, just trying to figure out how to stick in the Major Leagues because it was uncharted territory for me. I was unaware of what staying in the big leagues entailed. I was trying to clear my thoughts and be as simple as possible because you realize you have a task at hand.”

Arroyo recalled feeling uncomfortable the first time he got the call-up, knowing that he was a 23 year-old rookie amongst many talented millionaires he really did not know.  He could not quite get his footing and the Pirates could see it and sent him back to Triple A.  Arroyo said the Pirates just did not see the same guy they saw in the minor leagues and wanted him to get his confidence back before returning to the Big League Club.  Nevertheless, Arroyo’s Pirates’ campaign was an opportunity to get his feet wet in the major leagues and for that he was thankful… but not satisfied.

Boston was the next stop in Arroyo’s baseball journey and proved to be a huge stepping-stone in his development where Arroyo earned the trust of teammates and coaches with his poise and crafty pitching.

Opportunities varied across organizations and in 2003, Arroyo was given the opportunity to pitch a playoff game, which ultimately helped Boston reach the World Series one year later. He knew he had earned respect to be handed the ball during such an important moment. It meant so much to him. ”Being able to come in the 7th inning of the game and pitch against Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, and Alex Rodriquez proved I had solidified myself and was valued by the organization.”

Arroyo refers to the 2003 and 2004 seasons with the Red Sox as the climax of his career. In 2003 Bronson was able to solidify his spot on the Red Sox roster and in 2004 he helped the team break the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” while winning the World Series Title. The 2004 series saw Boston face a seemingly insurmountable three game deficit to the powerful Yankees. No team in the history of baseball has ever come back from a three game hole in a seven game series but the Red Sox did just that.  Arroyo and many others believe the 2004 championship was one of the best in the history of sports and Arroyo does not think any moment in his career will ever live up to that emotional high.

“I remember looking over in the dugout and seeing Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter with their heads on top of the net in front of the dugout just watching us celebrate.  It was great to be at Yankee stadium and not have to hear the song New york, New York!” After his beloved Yankees owned a three game lead in a seven game series, Sinatra from heaven above had to wonder why his song was not being caroled in celebration.

The biggest difference between Arroyo’s time with the Pirates and his time with the Red Sox proved to be his chemistry with his teammates. His newfound comfort allowed Arroyo to come into his own in 2003. Three players on the Red Sox helped with this process. Jason Varitek was the leader of this group and convinced Arroyo that it was okay to be the skinny, cornrowed, quirky kid as long as he continued to strike out the opponents. Arroyo said Jason told him to “Do what you do. We just want to put a zero on the board.  There’s no ego here.”

Kevin Millar was the inspiration that cemented the team into a feared unit.

“He made it okay for everybody to be who they were,” Arroyo said. “Kevin made it okay to be who you were inside that locker room and once we got inside the white lines we knew that we were like Mike Tyson in the ring.  Other teams feared playing us.”

Pedro Martinez was the final puzzle piece in making Arroyo feel comfortable on the team. However, this puzzle piece came in a different form. Pedro routinely showed up late to the park that eventually made Arroyo question one of the best pitchers in the league. Yet, Arroyo learned a valuable lesson after asking the potential Hall of Fame pitcher about his odd routine.

“Pedro told me, ‘You know what Bronson, I know I come late sometimes but I always get my work in. It doesn’t matter if I start at 8 p.m. or if I start at noon.’” Arroyo took Pedro’s explanation as a defining moment in understanding that everyone accomplishes tasks differently and there is not one exact formula for success. Arroyo put it bluntly with the classic phrase, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” With this advice, Arroyo confidently developed his own routine; A routine that is specific to what his body needs and has helped him become a more productive player and overall contributor to the clubhouse.

Cincinnati was the next stop in the right-hander’s career. Arroyo was a bona fide Major League player by this point and the Reds understood his value. With his new team, Arroyo took on a new role: he became a mentor. He was no longer flying under the radar of huge names like Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling but was becoming a veteran in his own right. “Being traded to Cincinnati was probably a little bit more gratifying over the years because I got to watch the maturation of teammates and know I had more influence upon them than I had on my teammates in Boston,” Arroyo said.

In addition to becoming settled in his role as a veteran on the field, Arroyo began to notice a fleet of “microcosms” that further influenced his pitching capabilities.

In Cincinnati, his main “microcosm” was Mike Leake.

The young rookie was able to show Arroyo how to maneuver his grip in different ways to improve his pitches. Arroyo began to realize information and learning flows from all angles.

“I throw my two-seam fastball now like Mike throws it, which I never did for most of my career,” Arroyo said. “I couldn’t throw a front-door sinker to lefties, but when Mike showed me his grip, I was like ‘wow,’ that’s better than what I was throwing.” While Arroyo had established himself as a veteran, he was fully aware that there were always things he could learn, even if it were from a rookie.

With Leake’s help and Arroyo’s ability to finally settle into a more veteran role, he collected a league-leading 240 and 2/3 innings pitched and had the honor of being selected to the 2006 All-Star team.

Arroyo is more than just a thirteen-year MLB Veteran. Arroyo has consistently reached and grown his dreams, learned through different paths in life, and exuded confidence. He has put countless hours into empty ballparks, he has collected invaluable tips on ball grips and pitching angles from even the most unexpected of teachers, and he has even excelled in his love for music.

But one thing Arroyo never thought he needed to learn was how to wait.

Arroyo is now a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks where he anxiously sits on the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July. Arroyo, like most pitchers, has pitched through pain his entire career. When pain crept in his elbow once again he did not think it was anything out of the ordinary.

“When my ligament ripped off the bone, I didn’t know it,” Arroyo said. “I was getting swelling but didn’t think anything was wrong because I had pitched through pain so many times. But the stuff I was using to try and pull the swelling out of my elbow wasn’t working so I thought there may be something a little bit more wrong.”

Arroyo pitched six times without the ligament attached. It was on June 15 against the Dodgers where he couldn’t throw anything over 80 mph and realized he had to stop.

When he found out he needed to have the surgery, the thought of this surgery ending his career started to creep into his mind, especially since his body no longer recovers like it once did.  Yet, Arroyo would not succumb to this concern. Instead, he applied the wisdom he gained from his father years ago about staying strong, not giving up, and setting goals.

“My father would say, ‘we are going to the weight room every day, we are going to be organized, we are going to keep charts, set goals. ‘ All of these small things that he did for me built that foundation and I would say this is the single most important thing that has made me who I am. I don’t think I would be playing major league baseball without him.”

Patience though, won’t keep Arroyo from continuing his journey. Patience has simply become part of his journey.

“I had always found a way, it was like the guy whose parachute didn’t open three times when he went skydiving, but every single time somehow he makes it to the ground without getting hurt.”

The once-unsure rookie has stemmed into a consistent starter, while holding true to his philosophical, yet lighthearted persona. He still remembers the day he belted out a song to a sold out venue in Boston and relates what a “violent act” it is to truly sing at the top of your lungs.  Arroyo wants to continue to grow. When asked if he thinks he will pitch again he explained that he will do anything he can to get his next “fifth day.”

“I didn’t think my career was over, I still don’t know if it is over, I might come back and never pitch again,” Arroyo said. “But, this is what I do. What’s made me who I am in this game is consistency and finding a way to be able to pitch every fifth day for 20 years.”

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